In the second game to be contested in Group C, Slovenia overcame the much-dismissed North Africans by a single goal. The match-deciding strike was late, and came courtesy of a goalkeeping blunder.
The goal was a cruel blow to one man in particular, as although Algerian ‘keeper Faouzi Chaouchi made a meal of holding on to Robert Koren’s tame strike, the 25-year-old stopper had looked distinguishably sturdy during the rest of the game.
The Slovenians went at him from set-pieces from the off – Boštjan Cesar attacked whip-ins with the air of Bruce Lee. One vertical punch aside, Chaouchi’s fisting was decisive from all Slovenia’s deliveries. Likewise, the rest of the Algerian side defended Slovenian set-plays with a steely discipline, and didn’t give their opponents an inch.
England and USA fans should note that Les Fennecs are as content off the ball as they are on it. Their goal kicks tend to be played short, though expect the occasional (central) punt. For the latter scenario, Karim Ziani shifts inside to flick the ball on.
England’s defence should also note that Rafik Djebbour works hard up top despite a paucity of service or numerical support.
The AEK Athens man is often assisted by an idea-quashing midfield bank. Although the central midfielders hover deep, they can help form a four man halfway line barrier. This encourages long balls, which in turn plays into the hands of their five man defence.
The full backs are only loosely defined as defenders, as Algeria seek to play in the opposition’s half through them. Resultantly, the team’s adventurous passes consist solely of long diagonals.
Against Slovenia, the majority of these were overhit. With a hasty multi-ball system enacted, the Africans could get exposed by little more than a humble ball boy. Yet at a slow-paced World Cup group game, Belhadj and Foued Kadir had time to retreat.
Caution is advised to their upcoming opponents, despite the Slovenia game highlighting their awful passing execution. Some of the darts made for potential passes were incisive and well timed, and Belhadj and Ziani – Saadane’s side always attack down the left -delivered with aplomb; regularly making the highly-rated Slovenian goalkeeper Samir Handanovič swat the air.
Alas, as Medhi Lacen and Hassan Yebda are so defensively drilled, Djebbour often had one-on-six situations in the box. The former duo are technically gifted and sharp in the tackle, but it’s mainly all toil done entirely in their own half.
This, however, is generally necessary as the centre back trio play almost exaggeratedly deep. They collect the ball from the ‘keeper along the box-edge, indulge in a spot of sideways passing (letting the full backs pick their positions further up the pitch), before arrowing crossfield balls to whoever appears to have located the biggest pocket of space.
Because the full backs get forward, Algeria play something of a 3-4-2-1. Therefore, the right-sided centre back and left-sided centre back double-up as covering full backs. Antar Yahia in particular has his hands full covering Portsmouth’s Belhadj.
On Friday, it’s a former Pompey player that Belhadj will tussle with. Glen Johnson isn’t offensively shy, and flanked by Aaron Lennon, Belhadj may not venture forward with as much gusto.
Having started the game with the more defensive minded pairing of Mišo Brečko and Andraž Kirm at the back, Slovenian coach Matjaž Kek sought to stifle the Algerian left-sided prowls by moving Valter Birsa to the right.
If Lennon and Johnson can boss their flank, Rooney forces overhit diagonals, and the centre backs distribute speedy through-passes for the central midfield to carry at the Algerian rearguard, England could well enter their final group game against the US with several goals under their collective belt.